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19 December 2014

A Year like No other...

A Year like No other...

This year has been a pivotal year not just in Scottish politics, but across the whole of the UK. In the European elections in May, UKIP topped the UK poll, although in Scotland they only won a single seat. In September, Scotland voted to stay a part of the UK in a referendum that divided opinion – not quite down the middle – and featured a late flurry of promises about further devolution to Scotland, talk of "Home Rule" and, from some, a lot of cynicism about those promises, especially after perceived attempts to tie those promises to "English votes for English laws".

Focusing more on Scotland, Alex Salmond abruptly announced his departure, leaving a big hole in the Scottish Parliament… before deciding he'd stand for a Westminster seat in 2015. And so, with Johann Lamont's resignation as Scottish Labour leader, we now have two new political leaders in Scotland, as Nicola Sturgeon took on the role of First Minister and Jim Murphy tries to swap Westminster for Holyrood – almost a role reversal with Alex Salmond!

However, for all the big events we've had this year, as we look forward to 2015, it's great to be able to focus more on practical politics again. Constitutional change will still be on the agenda, with the Smith Commission reporting back very recently, but along with Nicola Sturgeon's new-look Scottish Government came a message of reconciliation, and in the recently-unveiled Programme for Government, an emphasis on economic growth and social justice.

Much has been made of the need for reconciliation in the aftermath of the referendum, and for good reason. When we look around the world, there are many countries with huge political divides. A quick look across the Atlantic to the United States shows just how damaging that can be, but it is by no means the only example.

Therefore, it's good that this need has been recognised and acted upon. At the end of September, there was a service of reconciliation at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The Evangelical Alliance has produced a booklet exploring the challenge of disunity and reconciliation, which we hope will be useful to the Church. The Smith Commission, tasked with finding a way forward for increased devolution to Scotland from Westminster, involved and was supported by all the parties represented in Holyrood. It has involved everyone giving up some of what they wanted but, so far, it has been possible for those sides to agree.

It was also the very first thing Nicola Sturgeon mentioned in her speech to the Scottish Parliament when she was nominated as First Minister:

"My pledge today to every citizen of our country is simple but it is heartfelt. I will be First Minister of Scotland. Regardless of your politics or your point of view, my job is to serve you… There is a burning desire across our country to build a more prosperous, fairer and better Scotland. People didn't just vote Yes for a better country – I know those who voted No want a better country too."

Of course, we've seen these kinds of promises from politicians before, but that doesn't mean that we should be sceptical, or diminish the role we have to play. Unity goes to the heart of the Evangelical Alliance, and reconciliation is central to the Christian faith. Romans 5 makes it clear: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and through Christ, we receive reconciliation. As God's witnesses, it's important we model that to others.

Inevitably, as the Scottish Government's legislative programme develops, cracks will appear. People have different ideas about what constitutes a "better country". But as we debate, it's important to remember that how we conduct ourselves is as important as what we're seeking to do, and given the rollercoaster year we've had, that's important to keep in mind as 2015 approaches.

Noel Slevin, advocacy volunteer, Evangelical Alliance Scotland.